The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Gays & God’s Politics

I mentioned previously that I’d been reading Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, which I got my hands on via BookMooch. I’d been a bit critical of Wallis around the time that Obama was going on about Democrats courting evangelicals, because he and the rest of the “partial progressives” among the evangelicals who may be gaining influence with Democrats seem to ease up on their progressivism when it comes to gay issues.

But Wallis, in the aftermath of the Goodridge decision, affirmed that the “[Gay Americans'] civil and human rights must be honored, respected, and defended for a society to be healthy.” Impressive, coming from an evangelical Christian. So, I decided that at some point I wanted to read Wallis’ book to see just where I agreed with him, but also to see more about what he had to say about same-sex marriage and gay & lesbian civil rights. I ended up surprised in some ways, and not so surprised in others.

The surprise was that I actually found myself in agreement with wallis on most issues. War in Iraq? Check. Poverty? Check. Death Penalty? Check. Abortion? Well, he’s opposed to abortion but doesn’t want to see it criminalized. I’m in favor of safe and legal abortion, but I think we could both see eye to eye on addressing some of the issues underlying the abortion issue. But beyond that, I found I even shared Wallis’ aversion to Survivor, The Apprentice, and the rest of the “reality TV” genre. And speaking of cultural issues, I found Wallis and I shared some of the same concerns as parents too. I also look with wonder at my child’s innocence, and want to protect it for as long as I can. I, too, think “encouraging healthy, monogamous, and stable same-sex relationships” is good a good thing in general. (So much for me being a sexual liberationist, I guess.)

And we agree somewhat on the issue of same-sex marriage and gay & lesbian civil rights. To a point. It’s the last issue, or nearly the last, that Wallis addresses in his book, and I think that’s significant. I was tempted to jump ahead and read that section first, but I decided to stay with Wallis through everything else he had to say. And when I got to the eight pages or so (out of 374 in my copy), much of what I read sounded familiar. For his part, Wallis supports civil unions rather than marriage for same-sex couples, and also tries to map out other positions for individuals and churches “struggling” with the issue.

There are basic issues of fairness here that can be resolved without a paradigm shift in our basic definition of marriage.

… We can make sure that long-term gay and lesbian partnerships are afforded legitimate legal protections in a pluralistic society no matter what our views on the nature of marriage. But the question of gay marriage is important; it is a major issue in the religious community, and it is unlikely to be resolved for many years.

It’s the end of that statement that gives me pause because it telegraphs what Wallis says just a few pages after he called same-sex marriage “an important issue,” because he then says while it is an important issue it’s not as important as the issues he spent most of the rest of the book talking about. And he quotes a professor of divinity as saying, “Let us stop fighting one another, for a season, about issues of sexuality, for a season, so that we can focus on what God is saying about our complicity in the violence that is the deepest moral issue of our time.”

In other words, the marriage issue isn’t as important as the war in Iraq, or poverty, or any number of issues. So let’s ask instead “What else is God interested in?” And let that issue wait. It’s what I’ve heard from progressives for the past year or so, that liberals like me need to “set aside” the issue so that Democrats and the rest of us can focus on “more important” issues, even if that means supporting candidates who oppose equal rights for our families.

I heard it again this week from 2008 presidential hopeful Barak Obama on Larry King, that America isn’t ready for families like ours. (A poll taken earlier this year, however, suggests that a majority of New Jersey residents are ready for same-sex marriage.) The problem is, we’re here. Like I said earlier, we were presumptuous enough (uppity, perhaps) to not wait for the rest of the country to catch up before we went ahead with starting relationships, making commitments to each other, and building our families. And while we wait for religious Americans to resolve the issue over “many years” and for the rest of the country to become “ready,” we are taking on the burdens and obligations of commitment without the benefits and protections afforded other families. In too many cases we do so without remedy; while we wait.

The irony is that by by forming committed relationships and building families, we are standing against the “cultural and moral” forces that Wallis says are “ripping families apart.” In the choice between cynicism and hope that Wallis spend spends the last chapter of the book talking about, we are in a very real way coming down on the side of the latter, and at the same time investing in the ideal of community Wallis extolls as part of the solution to the problems he spends the rest of the book discussing.

It came home to me in a very real way a few weeks ago, and helped me give voice to an understanding I don’t think I had before entering a committed relationship and becoming a parent. Like Wallis’ experience watching the finale of Survivor, I had my epiphany while watching television. The hubby and I were watching Noah’s Arc, and one of the characters (Ricky) who was struggling with his first real relationship mused that “When you fall in love with someone that way, you’re supposed to be shutting out a world of trouble.” (Or something close to that.) Without even thinking about it or intending to speak, I heard myself saying “That’s not true!”

It took me a minute more to articulate what I meant, but it comes down to this. Making a commitment to another person, as a partner or a parent, is the furthest thing from “shutting out a world of trouble,” because it means making yourself even more vulnerable to an already troubled world; something that really comes home to you when you’re loved one’s walk out the door to go to work, school, etc., and you realize how vulnerable they are, how much can happen “out there,” and how little you can do to protect them. It means, or it can mean, committing to making the world you and your loved ones journey through each day a little less troubled if you can. By extension that means, or can mean, doing the same for and alongside the families in your community.

It means investing in hope that the world you and your loved ones live in can change and the others will take up the work with you, if you make a start. In fact, given the degree of commitment required for most gay people to become parents, and the obstacles or “flaming hoops” between us and parenthood, it’s possible that we have to invest even more in hope and in the creation of community. Because the other reality is that becoming parents, for us, usually means finding that we’re somewhat more marginalized in a gay community where most people aren’t raising children. At the same time by necessity and simply the nature of engaged parenting, we have to venture outside the safety of predominantly gay communities.

Betwixt and between, we can end up feeling a deep need for the kind of community Wallis calls for. Sometimes we create it for ourselves, building networks with other gay parents in areas where our numbers make that possible. Sometimes we find it by actively seeking out progressive areas to raise our families, where we’ll be more likely to find acceptance.

But even when and where we’re able to find or create community, we still do so without the same kind support that other families receive in the form of the benefits and protections of marriage, and that becomes even more important during crises, like illness or death, when a family needs all the support it can get. The few we can get via legal arrangements, we pay more for, and may ultimately find them threatened by amendments proposed in some of the states where we live. And no matter how accepting or supporting our friends and neighbors may be, they cannot take away or even lessen the consequences of not having those benefits and protections as a family.

And yet we continue to commit to each other and to create families anyway. Talk about choosing hope in the face of increasing odds and uncertainty.

I guess that why it troubles me to hear Wallis, Obama and others who seem to genuinely support equality for our families (in the form of civil unions or marriage) say “Wait. Not yet.” (Wallis doesn’t mention same-sex marriage in his 50 predictions for the new millennium, except to say that “The churches will finally t divide over homosexuality.”) Because it means our families will continue to face crises without the support other families receive, and without remedy for the absence of that support. It means that more stories like those of my friend who was turned away from the emergency room, Bill Flanigan, Sam Beaumont, Laurel Hester, Crispin Hollings, Robert Scanlon and Jay Baker, or John Crisci and MIchael Tartaglia must continue to happen. And telling us that we must “tell our stories” in order to change public opinion (though just just publicly about our daily lives as families is an act of public education), means that by necessity stories like these must continue to happen.

While we wait.

Having taken in God’s Politics, I feel less reason to worry if the evangelicals and religious voters that the Democrats reach out similar to Wallis and others like him. But it’s also clear that it probably means that equality for our families, though supported, will probably be less of a priority, and will most likely be back-burnered in favor of other “more important” issues with more majority appeal. So, while we continue to change the communities where we live with our families and continue to wait for something resembling justice, there is also less to hope for. For now, at least, and for the foreseeable future.

Justice? Yes. Fairness? Yes. Equality? Yes. But, just not now.

Tell me. Whose politics is that?

7 Comments

  1. Is Wallis’ audience people like you or people like him (evangelicals)? With no denigration of your (very heartfelt, discerning, and important) response, I think that Wallis is urging his fellow evangelicals to shut up about gay marriage for a while, as the larger “threats” to their faith are things like war, poverty and violence; what is important to the strength and value of the evangelical community is how they deal with those issues as christians. As for gay marriage and the treatment of women and children I would like to think that those things would be treated with respect in the reconciliation of the evangelical christian’s response to Wallis’ primary issues. In other words, my marriage to my wife and our child together should have no bearing, positive or negative, on an evangelical’s worldview. Wallis says that instead of worrying about how to subjugate the minority, evangelical christians should worry about how to care for them; that means at the macro level with war and poverty, and at the personal level in learning how to deal with/love people like you and me.
    thanks.

  2. Hello, I’ve never been to your site before, but came across it while searching for references to include in a college paper I’m writing in which I’m defending the right of homosexual couples to marry.
    It’s just a term paper, and it will be breaking no new ground.
    But I just wanted to chime in and say that I find you brilliant and inspiring. I’m (why do we have to even say this?, but here it is..) a heterosexual, married woman with a child and throughout the research I’ve been doing I’ve repeatedly been brought to tears by stories of gay and lesbian couples whose lives have been torn apart simply because they lacked legal rights that are “no-brainers” for married couples. I even have trouble writing the paper because to me there’s just no argument. It seems so strikingly obvious.
    Just wanted to say hello, and when I’m done with the work at hand (due tomorrow!), I’ll be regularly checking in here. This white. straight. mother. vegetarian. buddhist (budding). liberal. is so happy to have found you!

  3. This post is really excellent, Terrance. I blogged my own impressions of Wallis over at my place in response.

  4. Jim Wallis does care greatly about equal rights for gay couples. And while you may think me insensitive for saying this, I’ll just have to deal with this. But how can you say that Wallis is wrong for putting the hundreds of thousands of deaths from violence in Darfur and Iraq, from AIDS, hunger, and disease. You talked about your own child. When Wallis thinks of the children dying around the world of hunger, or of the babies being thrown into fires in Sudan, he thinks of his own 3 year old. How can you possibly fault him for wanting those to be number one priorities? The oppressed in the U.S. have it quite easy in comparison to most around the world. Being able to get married is actually a luxury for many around the world, not because they are gay, but because they don’t live long enough to do so.

    I don’t understand what’s so wrong with him being more passionate about poverty and war than other issues. Should you be faulted for caring more about American gay rights than you do about people dying? Everyone has their passions…. if you understand his, let it go. Must everyone’s agenda look exactly like yours?

  5. Let me see if I can address this. I’m not saying Wallis is wrong for placing a priority on the issues or war, poverty, etc. And I’d be the first to praise real efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS and provide access to treatments in Africa, having spend several year fighting the epidemic on this continent. I said earlier that I agree with Wallis on those issues. I’m surprised at how much common ground we have.

    What I’m saying is that I don’t understand why it has to be an either/or situation; as in “either we work on issues of peace, poverty, ect., or we work on issues of gay & lesbian equality.” Is there some reason why it has to be either/or? The only reason I get from Wallis is that the conversation is just too emotional and divisive to have right now.

    Maybe a few decades from now, it won’t be. But in the meantime that will mean a lot or our families will suffer the lack of benefits and protections that other families enjoy. It means that some of us will be shut out of hospital rooms when our partners are sick and/or dying. It means that some of us will lose everything if a partner dies unexpectedly, without a will, because we have no legal status and no rights to inherit. It means that some of us will lose our homes because of we don’t get the benefits that marries spouses get to keep their families afloat. It means that some of us will lose our children or have our legal rights as parents called into question, because our relationships have no legal status. It means that our children will endure all of the above along with us.

    All this will happen while we’re waiting; while we’re making commitments to each other, building families, and contributing to our communities. And most of it will happen without remedy and out of public view, while we’re waiting and continuing to contribute to exactly the kind of cultural change Wallis says is needed, and effectively being penalized for doing so. We’d actually fare better in many ways if we didn’t commit ourselves to one another, our children, and our communities.

    What I haven’t heard is what we’re supposed to do while we’re waiting, other than set all of the above aside and do something else. I haven’t heard how we’re supposed to protect our families as we’re working without the social support or safety net that other families have to fall back on in times of crisis; a safety net that our friends and neighbors can’t replace. The legal options we have give us a few protections, at best, but they may not be recognized when we need them to be. So, in the meantime, while we’re waiting, how do we protect our families? How do I not end up living any one of the stories I linked above?

    Or am I not supposed to care about any of that, or want anyone else to care enough to do something about it?

    When I think about the children you mentioned, I think of my own too, as Wallis does, and I see my child in them. But Wallis’ children have the benefit of having parents who can legally marry each other, and access the full array of benefits and protections society has put in place to encourage that level of commitment. My son does not. So, am I supposed to think less of my child than the rest? Am I supposed to think of my child as less important?

    Or should I not have become a parent in the first place? Should I not have entered into a commitment to family and community and just “waited” until everything else is taken care of, since we would be making those commitments only to not have support when we need it?

    Am I supposed to see how vulnerable my family is, and by extension my child, and not do everything I can to change that? Or am I just supposed to go it alone in the meantime.

  6. This made me instantly think of Civil Rights and whatnot. Women were told to wait for their rights, they could only focus on one thing at a time. However, these ladies shouldn’t be selfish and focus on their rights, nor on their daughters rights. These women needed to wait until the “right” time to be equal.

  7. I was never disputing the extreme difficulties that families experience when having to live withou the benefits and rights that other families have.

    But I see your arguments as being either/or. Jim Wallis says it’s an important issue in his book, but because he spent more time devoted to other issues, you put words in his mouth, that he is choosing these other “not as important” things over the issue of gay rights. I’m just wondering what he would have had to do in order to please you.

    I think it’s great that you’ve spent years working on AIDS in this continent. AIDS is still a problem in this country, despite that people prefer to forget about it. But it is also true that AIDS is a much bigger problem in Africa.

    When I talked about Jim thinking of the children in Darfur, he wasn’t thinking about children who don’t have the benefit of parents who are legally married to each other. I was talking about children that are being thrown into fire pits and murdered. Children whose parents, married or unmarried are murdered. How can you possibly see both those scenarios as being equally unjust? When you put marriage legislation and genocide as being equally important, it is you who is making the either/or decision. You are basically saying that anyone who doesn’t seen American same-sex legislation as equal to all other global problems, they are wrong for doing so, or maybe even, you see them as hateful, or only “parttially progressive.” To be a real, true progressive, someone who really has it right, you must think that same-sex legislation is more important, or at least equally important to AIDS, hunger, starvation, genocide…

    While I understand the importance of all that you are saying, it doesn’t seem very fair that everyone has to have the same priorities as you do- which is basically what you’re saying. Same-sex marriage legislation needs to be a number one priority for everyone or they’re wrong.

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